Budget crisis deepens
Double standards need to be challenged by the left in Ireland, writes Anne Mc Shane
The US-based financial news channel, Bloomberg TV, this week announced that Ireland is going bankrupt. Rumours abound about how much money is left in the till - with Bloomberg arguing that there are only 60 days-worth left, although the Irish National Treasury Agency maintains that it will not be until the middle of next year before the funds run out.
The nervousness of the markets was reflected in a new rise in the cost of Irish borrowing - to 8.14%. This is despite the attempts of the government to reassure international investors that it is doing all in its power to rein in spending. The plan is to go back to the bond markets next year once the draconian budget is pushed through on December 7. Another €6 billion in cuts is due, leading to a further massive reduction in public services and a programme of mass redundancies in the health service. But government policy cannot be said to have been a great success so far - if interest rates continue to climb, the cost of further borrowing could become prohibitive.
Meanwhile the EU economic and monetary affairs commissioner, Ollie Rehn, is in Ireland to support the coming budget and the austerity measures. He has made it plain that the future is very bleak and that even more ‘difficult’ decisions need to be taken. It is obvious that the plan is to suck as much money out of state provision as possible to keep the economy afloat. The impact on the working class is enormous and the fear is intense. A Red C poll this week showed that 49% of people interviewed felt unwell with stress and many had been unable to visit their doctors because of lack of money. The same poll reflected a loathing of the government, with just 11% supporting Brian Cowen to continue as taoiseach. Enda Kenny of Fine Gael, the main opposition party, fared little better, with 23%. Eamonn Gilmore of the Labour Party continues to increase his support, with 39%. And with a by-election this month almost certain to reduce the government’s majority to just two TDs, the Fianna Fáil/Green coalition is looking extremely unstable.
Opposition has started to gather momentum once more. More than 25,000 students marched in Dublin last week in a demonstration which was angry and militant - and came under attack from the Gardaí. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has announced a national demonstration on November 27. Other protests and marches are being planned to coincide with the budget. It seems that we are in for a very volatile period. The government is warning that if the budget does not go through we risk losing our national sovereignty and even worse cuts will ensue. But it is obvious that the EU is already overseeing the attacks. Stoking up such fears might work in the short term, but the mood can also very quickly translate into collective rage. The working class is desperate. We urgently need an organisation to provide leadership.
In such circumstances it is, of course, vital that the left gets its act together. The announcement by the Socialist Workers Party-backed People Before Profit Alliance (PBPA) of a left coalition to contest the forthcoming general election has created cautious hope. But at the moment it is difficult to know how serious an initiative it is.
The PBPA issued a press release on October 27 welcoming the formation of the United Left Alliance (ULA) on October 24. It is reportedly made up of the Socialist Party in Ireland, the Tipperary Workers and Unemployed Group, councillors in Sligo under Declan Bree, and the PBPA itself (the SWP is not officially involved under its own name). In fact the PBPA seems at the present time to be the only body actually mentioning it. No reference can be found on either the SWP or Socialist Party websites at the time of writing this report. The latest copy of Socialist Worker does not even advertise the public launch meeting due to held on November 26. All very strange.
According to the press release, the plan is to stand candidates throughout the country in the next general election. While officially this may not take place until 2012, it looks certain that a snap election will be called well before then. We are told that the programme has already been agreed between the participants. Eighteen candidates are also approved, with more under discussion. The lack of transparency evident in the setting up of this alliance is already being debated on various blogs. An open debate on programme and perspectives is vital for the left and workers’ movement - not the announcement of a fait accompli.
According to the PBPA, however, the alliance will be open to “anyone who accepts its basic programme and aims”. The press release goes on to express the hope that electoral success “will lay the basis over time for a move to a more formal structure - in reality, a new party for working people, union, community, feminist and environmental activists, students and anyone who wants to affect real change”.
Perhaps the main organisations of the left are waking up to the need for a single working class force. But the secrecy up to now does not augur well for the kind of democracy necessary for any new organisation to truly represent working class aspirations. The whole process needs to be opened up to allow for the democratic selection of candidates and input into the platform they stand on.
The ULA is obviously an attempt to create yet another halfway house populist organisation. The Socialist Party and SWP will once more keep their ‘revolutionary Marxism’ to themselves, while the alliance - if its existence is eventually recognised by the participants - will offer the electorate ‘sensible’ reformism.
Ironically the formation of the alliance took place immediately after the October 22-23 conference entitled ‘Marxist Perspectives for Irish Society’, which brought together representatives of the SP and the SWP, as well as a number of other political activists and academics. It illustrated the potential for regroupment on a revolutionary basis.
The double standards need to be challenged. Hopefully the initiative will create a dynamic of its own despite the control-freakery and secrecy of its founders.